Children's Literature

Instructor: Chi-Fen Emily Chen, Ph.D. 陳其芬

Department of English, National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, Taiwan


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The Study of Literature

 Please read Chapter 3 from Russell, D. L. (2009). Literature for children: a short introduction.

The Elements of Literature

Characters

1)  Types of Characters:

  • Protagonist (hero): the central figure with whom we usually sympathize or identify

  • Antagonist (villain): the figure who opposes the protagonist and creates the conflict

  • Foil Character: the figure whose personality traits are the opposite of the main characterís. This is a supporting character and usually made to shine the protagonist.

2)  The ways characters are portrayed:

  • Flat Characters (stock, static characters or stereotypes): they have no depth and no change; we only see one side or aspect of them. Most supporting characters are portrayed in this way, for example, a strict teacher, a helpful policeman, and an evil stepmother.

  • Round Characters (dynamic character): they have more fully developed personalities. We expect the protagonists and antagonists to be rounded individuals who express a range of emotion and change throughout the narrative, usually toward greater maturity.

3)  The ways characters are revealed:

  • What the narrator says about the character

  • What the other characters say about the character

  • What the character says about himself or herself

  • What the character actually does

 

Setting

1)  The setting refers to the time, the geographical locations, and the general environment and circumstances that prevail in a narrative. The setting helps to establish the mood of a story.

 2)  Two types of setting:

  • Integral Setting: the setting is fully described in both time and place, usually found in historical fiction.

  • Backdrop Setting: the setting is vague and general, which helps to convey a universal, timeless tale. This type of setting is often found in folktales and simply sets the stage and the mood. For example, "long ago in a cottage in the deep woods" and "once upon a time there was a great land that had an Emperor."

 

Narrative Point of View

  • Internal Narrator (First-person Narrator; the narrator uses "I" to refer to himself/herself): the narrator is a character in the story, often, but not necessarily, the protagonist. This narrative point of view allows for a very personal touch in the story telling.

  • Omniscient Narrator (multiple points of view; the narrator is "all-knowing"): the narrator is not a character in the story but knows everything about the story. The omniscient narrator can show the thoughts and experiences of any character in the story. It permits the writer the broadest scope.

  • Limited Narrator (External Subjective Narrator; the 3rd person point of view): the narrator is not a character in the story but looks at things only through the eyes of a single character. This type of narrative permits the narrator to quickly build a close bond between the protagonist and the reader, without being confined by the protagonistís educational or language restrictions.

 

Plot

1)  The plot of a story is a series of interconnected events in which every occurrence has a specific purpose. A plot is all about establishing connections, suggesting causes, and showing relationships.

2)  Four types of plot structure:

  • A Dramatic or Progressive Plot: This is a chronological structure which first establishes the setting and conflict, then follows the rising action through to a climax (the peak of the action and turning point), and concludes with a denouement (a wrapping up of loose ends).

  • An Episodic Plot: This is also a chronological structure, but it consists of a series of loosely related incidents, usually of chapter length, tied together by a common theme and/or characters. Episodic plots work best when the writer wishes to explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of an era.

  • A Parallel Plot: The writer weaves two or more dramatic plots that are usually linked by a common character and a similar theme.

  • A Flashback: This structure conveys information about events that occurred earlier. It permits authors to begin the story in the midst of the action but later fill in the background for full understanding of the present events. Flashbacks can occur more than once and in different parts of a story.

 

Conflict

1)  Common types of conflicts:

  • The Protagonist against Another

  • The Protagonist against Society

  • The Protagonist against Nature

  • The Protagonist against Self

 2)  A single story may contain more than one type of conflict, although one often predominates. The conflict provides the excitement and makes possible the growth and development of the protagonistís character.

 

 

Theme

1)  The theme is the main, underlying idea of a piece of literature. It is woven subtly into the fabric of the story rather than being lectured or preached by the author.

2)  Among the frequently found thematic issues in childrenís literature are the problems of growing up and maturing, such as adjustment to society, love and friendship, achieving oneís identity, and finding one's place in the world.

 

 

Style

1)  Word Choice

2)  Sentence Length and Construction

  • Short sentences best convey suspense, tension, and swift action.

  • Longer sentences work best when explanations and descriptions are needed.

  • Prose has rhythm just as poetry does. Its rhythm can be produced by the juxtaposition of sounds, the use of repetition with a slight variation of patterns, and the varied length of sentences.

3)  Exposition: the narratorís passages that provide background information and/or introduce characters to help readers understand the events of a story. Children prefer a balance between exposition and dialogue.

4)  Dialogue: the words spoken by the characters, usually to each other, not to the reader. Children especially enjoy dialogue as a realistic and convincing way of defining character.

 

 

Tone

1)  Tone refers to the authorís mood and manner of expression in a work of literature. The tone can be serious, didactic, humorous, satirical, caustic/sarcastic, passionate, sensitive, sentimental, zealous, indifferent, poignant, warm, agitated, and so on.

2)  Humor:

  • Incongruity is the foundation of humor. We laugh at the tension resulting from something out of the ordinary.

  • Humor is elusive.

  • Humor tends to be age specific. 

  • Humor can be either sympathetic or negative. One prerequisite is that the victim must seem to deserve the fate or the harm must not be critical.

    Ten Types of humor most common in childrenís books (Kappas, 1967):

  • Exaggeration

  • Incongruity

  • Surprise

  • Slapstick

  • Absurdity

  • Situational humor

  • Ridicule/satire

  • Defiance

  • Violence

  • Verbal Humor: word play, name-calling, jokes and puns, malapropisms (the unintentional misuse of language), or the misinterpretation of language.

3)  Parody:

  • A parody is a literary imitation of another piece of literature, usually using exaggeration for comic purpose.

  • A parody implies a degree of sophistication that deconstructs the original story and depicts the characters from a different perspective.

  • Parodies can demonstrate the vitality of literature and can suggest new ways of interpreting old tales.

4) Condescending tones:

  • Condescending tones are inappropriate for children's stories, placing the adult narrator in a superior position.

  • For examples, a moralizing, didactic, sentimental, or cynical tone is not appreciated in children's literature nowadays.

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